Try this little exercise. Relax all your muscles and focus on taking really deep breaths. Then slowly release the air from your lungs. Do this several times.
The air that enters our lungs brings life. And as we quicken our breathing through aerobic exercise, brisk walking or running, we feel invigorated and may even experience a feeling of euphoria.
As you fill your lungs with fresh air, rich in oxygen, these oxygen molecules pass through the walls of the alveoli into the blood. Attaching to the haemoglobin, the beating of the heart pumps this newly oxygenated blood back out to all parts of the body. This in turn releases oxygen which enters the cells, giving energy and life.
Within each cell in the body is a furnace called the mitochondrion. Imagine yourself in front of a crackling, warm fire. It burns safely and quietly most of the time. But occasionally, a cinder flies and lands on your carpet, burning a little hole in it. One cinder by itself does not pose much of a threat; but if this sparking and popping continues month after month, year after year, you will end up with a pretty ragged carpet in front of your fireplace.
This simple illustration demonstrates how the mitochondria within the cell reduces oxygen by the transfer of electrons to create energy into the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and produces a by-product of water. This process goes on without a hitch at least 98 percent of the time. But the full complement of four electrons needed to reduce oxygen to water does not always happen as planned and a “free radical” is produced!
The cinder from the fireplace represents a free radical, and the carpet represents our body. Whichever part of the body receives the most free radical damage is the first to wear out and potentially develops a degenerative disease.
If it is your eyes, you could develop macular degeneration or cataracts. If it is your blood vessels, you could have a heart attack or stroke.
If it is your joint space, you could develop arthritis. If it is your brain, you could develop Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Together we have just imagined the “bright” side of oxygen and the life and warmth it brings, but we may never have known the demise that unruly free radicals causes, otherwise known as OXIDATIVE STRESS.
This oxidative stress is the underlying cause of almost all degenerative diseases. Right from the skin, you can see significant difference between the youngest and the oldest members of several generations. As on the surface (on the skin) so also the same decay is happening inside our bodies too.
Free radicals are mainly oxygen molecules or atoms that have, at least, one unpaired electron in their outer orbit. In the process of utilising oxygen during normal metabolism within the cells to create energy (called oxidation), active free oxygen radicals are created. They essentially have an electrical charge and desire to try to get an electron from any molecule or substance in the vicinity. They have such a violent movement that they have been shown chemically to create bursts of light within the body. They are the “area boys” in our society – in this case, our bodies.
If these free radicals are not rapidly neutralised by an antioxidant, they may create even more violent free radicals or cause damage (aka oxidative stress) to the cell membrane, vessel wall, proteins, fats or even the DNA nucleus of the cell.
Our allies and defenders (antioxidants)
An antioxidant is any substance that has the ability to give up an electron to a free radical and balance out the unpaired electron, which neutralises the free radical. Our body has the ability to produce three major antioxidant defense systems but not all we ultimately need. The rest of our antioxidants must come from food or nutritional supplementation.
As long as adequate amounts of antioxidants are available for the amount of free radicals produced, no damage is done to the body. But when more free radicals are produced than antioxidants available, oxidative stress occurs. When this situation persists for a prolonged period of time, we can develop a chronic degenerative disease and begin to lose the war within.
Balance is the key to winning this ongoing war! We must always be armed with more antioxidants than free radicals in our body at every point in time.
(Continues next edition)
Mrs Chima Ejimofor is the Lead partner of Infinite Health Consult, and is available for the purchase of quality nutritional supplements, health talks and wellness seminars. She is based in Lagos, Nigeria. Telephone/WhatsApp: 07033179632, email: email@example.com